Osnat and her husband Rabbi Shaul host a traditional Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem, Israel. Full of spirituality, Kabbalah, Hassidic teachings, a delicious meal, and Israeli wines, they’re quite the pros at cooking up a Shabbat feast!
We sat down with them to find out what it is that makes their Shabbat dinner so special.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Shabbat?
It’s a different world. It’s a complete jump to another dimension, with the rules, the flow, and how everyone is happy and excited. You see the build-up, and the preparation lets you know that the night is going to be special because each night is different. For Shabbat, it’s said that when you cook, you cook according to your guests. So if the guests are amazing, then the food will be amazing!
What is your favorite part of Shabbat in Israel?
We are in Jerusalem, and when you come here you know that you’re coming to the source of it all, so you can see the energy and the intensity beforehand. Shabbat is the peak of everything, and you can feel this as the weekdays go by. It’s the best part because you leave the rest of the week behind. When we open our doors and see all the new faces enter, it’s an amazing moment.
Who do Israelis typically spend their Shabbat dinners with?
Sometimes it’s the entire family but it depends on the house. Usually it’s spent with immediate family, but some people have friends over as well. Others host Shabbat dinners, like us! There are so many people who come to Jerusalem and some people like to open their homes to people they don’t know. It really shows the good values of human beings.
What makes this experience different from others?
What happens here is that we host 40-45 people every Shabbat. We are able to welcome 25 guests and we’ve had people from all over the world. We have friends who help cook and serve, we have the students from Yeshiva who help sing with us and talk about the Torah. It’s truly a beautiful setup. After a few minutes of sitting down everything begins, and after about half an hour, everyone is feeling comfortable and happy, the wine is flowing, people are singing. It’s really difficult to describe because it’s so beautiful.
What are the mandatory dishes served at a Shabbat dinner?
Wine and Challah, along with the blessing of the wine and the blessing over bread. After that, we can start eating and talking about the week and the special contents of that week in Jewish studies.
What kind of things do you talk about?
It depends on the guests! We might discuss what the content of this week was, what they’re reading, and how we can improve our lives. We also sing, and since we don’t always have the same people every time, the vocals of the guests are really different and beautiful. Sometimes people even bring instruments, and we’ve even had people dancing on the tables! It’s really beautiful and fun, the atmosphere is relaxing and light. The context is deep and it really goes to your soul.
What’s your signature dish?
Well, we have a few but I think the lamb is the winner! We have traditional Moroccan fish and the Challah is homemade. Our daughter makes the dough. We also have various kinds of salads on the table as well.
Is there a respectful dress code for a typical Israeli Shabbat dinner?
Shabbat is a very special day so we like to dress in nice clothes. Kippot are usually worn by the men. Pants are not a problem. Women are usually very respectful and come covered up. But it’s never been an issue, and we have scarves and other things that we can lend our guests.
Do guests participate in the Shabbat prayers?
We don’t pray here. We come back after the prayers. What we do here is we sing the songs before the blessing over the wine. We also have the transliterations of the songs for the guests.
Can guests learn about Shabbat and have their questions answered by you?
Yes, absolutely, we can answer questions. We’ve also had guests who studied Hebrew and Shabbat customs beforehand. We’ve had guests come over from Asia and they sang the songs, in Hebrew! Also, the Yeshiva boys are hosting as well, so they can also answer the questions. Many friendships have developed here.
What’s fun about your Shabbat dinner?
It‘s the food, it’s the singing, it’s the people from all over the world and how they share their experiences, ideas, and stories. It’s blending all of this together that makes our Shabbat so much fun.
What inspired you to start hosting Shabbat dinners?
I was invited to Shabbat dinners as a bachelor and one day I was tired of waiting for invitations and I told my friends that we should host, and we invited 20 or so people. Then we got married, and the rest is history. That was almost 35 years ago!
What is the most exciting moment you’ve had with your guests while hosting?
For us, it’s when everyone stands up and dances in a circle while singing the songs. Both Jews and non-Jews get up, and it makes you really wish that the whole world could be like this! One time, after the singing and dancing, we had a group of Italian couples. And one of them said to us: “you know, I’ve been to Jerusalem. I’ve seen the stones, I’ve seen the buildings, I’ve learned the history, but to me, that isn’t what Jerusalem is about. What we’ve experienced here, I will take with me forever.”
Do you have guests who’ve started to host after attending your experience?
Yes! Once we had a bunch of young Americans from L.A. who worked in the entertainment industry. When it was the last day of their experience in Israel, we asked them what their favorite part of their trip was. It was very emotional for them because they went on to mention how much they’re missing out on and how from now on, they’re also going to host Shabbat.
If you’d like to join Osnat and Rabbi Shaul for a magical Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem, as well as other spiritual dining events, be sure to check out their profile on Eatwith here!